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Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides)



Enrique Diaz, CAPeCA
Francisco Pereira, FAO
Ben Stafford, BirdLife International
Carlos Wurmann


Consolidated Fisheries Ltd


The Patagonian toothfish or Chilean seabass (Dissostichus eleginoides) is a large, demersal fish species growing to up to 2 metres in length and living for up to 50 years. It becomes sexually mature when it reaches 70 to 95 cm, e.g. from 6 to 9 years of age. The species has relatively low fecundity, ranging from 48 000 to 500 000 eggs per fish per spawning season. Its resilience is very low, the minimum population doubling time being 4.5 to 14 years. It inhabits temperate deep water (28° to 55° South), from 50 down to 2 500-3 000 metres (Fishbase 2003).

The Patagonian toothfish occurs in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of southern Chile and Argentina, and sub-Antarctic islands under the sovereignty of Australia, France, New Zealand, South Africa and the United Kingdom. These areas correspond to the following FAO major fishing areas:

- Atlantic, Southwest;
- Pacific, Southeast;
- Indian Ocean, Antarctic;
- Atlantic, Antarctic;
- Indian Ocean, Western;
- Atlantic, Southeast;
- Pacific, Antarctic;
- Pacific, Southwest.

The main catch areas of the Patagonian toothfish are reported in Figure 1. The most important being the Atlantic Southwest which produced 11 122 MT in 2000, followed by the Southeast Pacific, which generated 10 676 MT. Other important catch areas are the Indian Ocean Antarctic with 8 996 MT followed by the Atlantic Antarctic with 4 693 MT (Fishstat + data).

According to Fishstat + data (2000), the main fishing nations in the Atlantic Southwest are Argentina (7 771 MT) and the Republic of Korea (1 292 MT); in the Pacific Southeast area, Chile (10 676 MT); and in the Indian Ocean Antarctic area, France (5 503 MT) and Australia (2 579 MT). In the Atlantic Antarctic area the main fishing nations are Chile (1 609 MT), the United Kingdom (1 221 MT) and Uruguay (767 MT); in the Western Indian Ocean area it is Uruguay (1 628 MT).

Figure 1: Landings of Dissostichus eleginoides by main catch area, 1977-2000.

The long life span and late sexual maturity of the Patagonian toothfish make it highly vulnerable to overfishing. The resource has been experiencing high levels of exploitation due to high international demand for what is considered to be luxury seafood in the USA, the Japan and the EU. Figure 1 shows that landings of Patagonian toothfish in its main catch areas, experienced their peaks in 1992 (Pacific Southeast, 26 918 MT) and 1995 (Atlantic Southwest, 19 442 MT) to decline in the following years.

Threats to Dissostichus eleginoides are enhanced by IUU, the extent of which has been estimated in Figure 4. The fishery has been subject to an International Catch Documentation Scheme (CDS), set up by CCAMLR. The scheme, included in Conservation Measure 170/XX, became binding for all CCAMLR Members on 7 May 2000. Its aim is to track the landings and trade flows of Patagonian toothfish caught in the Convention area and adjacent waters. This enables CCAMLR to identify the origin of toothfish entering the markets of all Parties to the Scheme, and help determine whether toothfish taken in the Convention Area were caught in a manner consistent with CCAMLR’s conservation measures. These include exploratory catch quotas, control of fishing effort and other management measures (Lack and Sant 2001)[47].

The Patagonian toothfish industry

The Patagonian toothfish fishery represents the most lucrative fishery in Antarctic and Subantarctic waters. Patagonian toothfish is marketed under a variety of other names, including bacalao de produndidad (Chile), butterfish (Mauritius), Chilean sea bass (the United States and Canada), merluza negra (Argentina), mero (Japan) and ròbalo (Spain). An indicative price for Chilean and Peruvian product, frozen, H&G, ex-warehouse Miami, USA is US$5.75 per lb. (INFOFISH 2003).

The NGO ISOFISH (International Southern Oceans Longline Fisheries Information Clearing House)[48] listed 231 companies engaged in the fishery on its web page. Some key operators are:

Argenova, an Argentine company belonging to the Spanish group Pescanova, started its operations in 1988 and was one of the first companies engaged in fishing Patagonian toothfish, marketed as Sea bass, in 1989. The company operates 15 vessels, mostly jiggers, long liners and trawlers.

ASC South America, an Argentine company financed with Norwegian capital. It has three longliners operating in the fishery (Josupeit, Pers. Comm.)

Austral Fisheries is the main licensed toothfish company in Australia. In August 1998, its vessel “the Austral Leader” became the first to be licensed to supply toothfish to the United States’ market. Austral Fisheries is one of the main sponsors of ISOFISH.

Consolidated Fisheries Limited (Ltd.) was established in 1994 as a joint initiative by the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas Government and Development Corporation and a consortium of local fishing companies. Currently, Consolidated Fisheries Ltd. is one of the most important fishing companies in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas and makes an important contribution to the local economy.

Pesca Chile is the Chilean branch of the Spanish group Pescanova. Pesca Chile owns and operates a fleet of 12 fishing vessels. Pesca Chile’s landings are processed in its own plants before being distributed to Japan, Spain, and the USA.

Kailis and France is an Australian trawler authorized to catch Patagonian toothfish off the Macquarie Island, south of Tasmania.

Other important companies include South African Bato Star, Irvin and Johnson and Suidor.

It is suggested that many industrial fishing companies, including large-scale operators, have been or (presumably) may still be engaged in IUU fishing of Patagonian toothfish. According to FAO Fishstat +, landings increased from 1 096 MT in 1977 to 37 435 MT in 2000. In 1995, they reached a record 44 047 MT (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Total landings of Dissostichus eleginoides, 1977-2000.

The fluctuations in landings in the nineties may be better understood if total landings are disaggregated into figures for the main producing countries. In fact Chile increased its toothfish production from 10 969 MT in 1991 to 29 838 MT in 1992. It then declined to 9 334 MT in 1997. Landings then increased again to reach 12 285 MT in 2000 (Figure 3). Argentine landings also increased from 10 840 MT in 1994 to 19 996 MT in 1995, then declined in the subsequent years to stablize at 7 771 MT in 2000 (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Landings of Dissostichus eleginoides by main countries, 1978-2000.

CCAMLR shows separate figures for legal and illegal catches of Patagonian toothfish over the period 1996-2000 (Lack and Sant 2001). The legal, reported catch declined from 32 736 MT in 1996/97 to 25 242 MT in 1999/2000. IUU fishing of Patagonian toothfish is estimated to have fallen from 68 234 MT in 1996/97 to 8 418 MT in 1999/2000. Total catch (legal and illegal) is estimated to have fallen from 100 970 MT in 1996/97 to 33 360 MT in 1999/00 (Figure 4).

According to CCAMLR, the implementation of the CDS is thought to have reduced IUU catch of Patagonian toothfish to zero in states that are signatories to the convention and to have produced an associated reduction of IUU catch by non-members. However, the NGO TRAFFIC suggests that IUU fishing may have been relocated rather than eliminated (Lack and Sant 2001).

Figure 4: Total legal and illegal landings of Dissostichus eleginoides according to CCAMLR, 1997-2000.

Concerning trade, Fishstat + provides data on toothfish exports[49] and imports in two forms: whole, frozen, and frozen fillets. Exports increased from 1 449 MT in 1985, for a value of US$4 million, to 12 727 MT in 2000 for a value of some US$83.76 million. In 1994, they reached a peak in quantity, with 13 214 MT exported, worth US$75 million and in 1995, in value, with catches of 12 060 MT being sold for US$87.2 million. The main exporter has always been Chile, who accounted for almost 100 percent of toothfish exports, both in terms of quantity and value, until 1996. On average, Chilean exports accounted for 95.4 percent of world exports in terms of quantity over the period 1985-2000, and 97.3 percent in value[50] (Figure 5 [a] and [b]).

Figure 5 (a) and (b): Chilean and world exports of toothfish, 1985-2000.

(a) a comparison between Chilean and world exports of Patagonian toothfish, quantity 1985-2000

(b) a comparison between Chilean and world exports of Patagonian toothfish, value 1985-2000

Fishstat + data on toothfish imports are available from 1996 only, and show an increase from 11 141 MT in 1996, corresponding to US$81 million, to 27 976 MT in 2000, corresponding to US$218.8 million. Main importers are Japan and the USA (Figure 6 [a] and [b]). These values do not correspond to those on exports provided by the same database.

Figure 6 (a) and (b): Main imports of toothfish, 1996-2000.

(a) main imports of Patagonian toothfish, quantity 1996-2000

(b) main imports of Patagonian toothfish, value 1996-2000

A different set of data is provided by EUROSTAT. According this database the EU exported 3 668 MT of frozen toothfish (Dissostichus spp.) to third countries, equivalent to €26.15 million in 2000 and 28 MT of frozen fillets worth €61 000. It also imported 830 MT of frozen fish for a value of €1.9 million, and 224 MT of frozen fillets worth €639 000 (EUROSTAT data).

The range states

This section of the paper aims to assess the economic and social value of toothfish fisheries for range states. States have been selected according to the relative importance of the fishery and trade in toothfish products for their economies. The main data sources used for general information are the UN Statistics Division, FAO and the World Bank. The main source for fishery landings, trade and employment data is FAO, which relies on data provided by its Member States and Observers.


Background data and estimates:

Status: upper-middle income country (World Bank 2002a)

Population: 37.5 million in 2001 (World Bank 2002a)

People living below the poverty line: 18 percent of population in 1995-2001 (World Bank 2002a)

Child malnutrition: 5 percent of children below five years of age in 1995-2001 (World Bank 2002a)

Mean GDP per capita: US$7 678 in 2000 (UN Statistics Division 2002)

Total GDP: US$283.1 billion in 2000 and US$268.5 billion in 2001 (World Bank 2002a)

Labour force: 23 million persons according to 1999 estimates (World Bank 2001)

Fishery data and estimates


Number of fishers: 13 787 (est.) in 2000, of which 1 467 (est.) inland fishers and 12 320 (est.) marine fishers nei, the latter data repeated up to 2000 (FAO FIDI data)

Full-time: 12 320 in 1996, data repeated up to 2000 (FAO FIDI data)

Unspecified: an estimated 1 467 fishers (FAO FIDI data)

Estimated employment in processing and marketing: 12 000 persons in 1998 (FAO 2001)

Note: gender breakdown not provided by references


Fisheries GDP: US$500 million in 2000 (FAO 2001)

Total landings: 917 728 MT in 2000 (Fishstat + data)

Marine landings: 890 728 MT in 2000 (Fishstat + data)

Aquaculture production and value: 1 784 MT in 2000, corresponding to US$10 430 000 (Fishstat + data)

Export quantity: 493 680 MT in 2000 (Fishstat + data)

Export value: US$747 630 000 in 2000 (Fishstat + data)

Dissostichus is an important commercial species for Argentina. It is targeted by large industrial fishing companies such as Argenova, using bottom trawls and longlines. 54.2 percent of catch is landed in Ushuaia, 17.3 percent in Puerto Madryn and 15.8 percent in Puerto Deseado (Josupeit, Pers. Comm.). The main product forms are fillets and whole fish headed and gutted (H&G), frozen on board (Josupeit, Pers. Comm.). The Ministerio de Economía, Secretaria de Agricultura, Ganadería Pesca y Alimentación (SAGPyA) is responsible for implementing the CCAMLR conservation policy for Patagonian toothfish (SAGPyA 2002).

Fishstat + data suggest that following neglible catches reported in the period 1978-1992, landings started to increase in the following years, due to enhanced market demand and the need for the Argentine fishery industry to find alternative sources of income, following the steady decline in Argentine hake (Merluccius hubbsi) landings (see Figure 8). In 1995, Patagonian toothfish landings reached a peak of 19 996 MT, equivalent to 1.7 percent of total Argentine landings for that year (1 162 324 MT). Catches then declined steadily, reaching 7 702 MT in 1999 and 7 771 MT in 2000 (Figure 3). The quasi totality of Argentine production comes from the Atlantic Southwest (Figure 7). Landings of toothfish made up some 0.8 percent of total catch in 2000.

By comparing FAO data on employment in fisheries (FAO FIDI data) and 2000 data on marine landings (Fishstat + data), one can estimate that 110 fishers depend on the Patagonian toothfish fishery in Argentina.

Figure 7: Landings of Dissostichus eleginoides in Argentina by production area, 1978-2000.

Figure 8: The rise and fall of the Argentine hake fisheries, 1990-2000.

Fishstat + does not provide data on toothfish exports from Argentina. However, its importance can be drawn from other data sources.

EU imports of frozen toothfish from Argentina totalled 117 MT in 2000, equivalent to €213 000. According to the same source, EU imports of frozen fillets totalled 4 MT in 2000, corresponding to €9 000 (GLOBEFISH databank).

According to the Japan Marine Products Importers Association, Japanese imports of frozen toothfish from Argentina increased from 745 MT in 1998, equivalent to some US$3.2 million to 1 217 MT in 2000, equivalent to US$5.8 million. Imports of frozen fillets decreased from 1 644 MT, equivalent to some some US$10.4 million, in 1996 to 704 MT in 2000, equivalent to circa US$5.7 million (GLOBEFISH databank).

United States’ imports of fresh whole toothfish from Argentina totalled 24.26 MT in 2000 whilst imports of frozen whole fish decreased from 2 292 MT in 1998 to 1 246 MT. At the same time, imports of frozen fillets increased from 39.4 MT in 1998 to 461.7 MT in 2000 (GLOBEFISH databank).

The Dissostichus fishery in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas[51]

The Dissostichus fishery is an important fisheries in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas. Catches of Patagonian toothfish are entirely exported, in frozen form (Fishstat + data). The only company which owns licenses to fish Patagonian toothfish is Consolidated Fisheries Ltd., which employs 100 people comprising fishers and office staff, and two vessels (Consolidated Fisheries, Pers. Comm.).

Landings for the period 1988-1993 were too marginal to be taken into consideration as a separate entry in Fishstat +. Landings (and export quantity) of this fishery then increased from 18 MT in 1994 to 1 113 MT in 1999, before declining slightly to 927 MT in 2000 (Figure 9). The export value of the fishery, increased from US$17 000 in 1994 to more than US$1 million in 1999, then fell slightly to US$890 000 in 2000 (Figure 10).

Figure 9: Landings and export quantity of Dissostichus eleginoides in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas, 1994-2000.

Figure 10: Landings and export value of Dissostichus eleginoides in the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas, 1994-2000.

The Patagonian toothfish fishery accounted for more than 1 percent of total landings and value of the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas fishery over the period 1994-2000.


Background data and estimates

Status: upper-middle income country (World Bank 2002b)

Population: 15.4 million in 2001 (World Bank 2002b)

People living below the poverty line: 21 percent of population in 1995-2001 (World Bank 2002b)

Child malnutrition: 1 percent of children below five years of age in 1995-2001 (World Bank 2002b)

Mean GDP per capita: US$4 669 in 2000 (UN Statistical Services 2002)

Total GDP: US$75.5 billion in 2000 and US$66.5 billion in 2001 (World Bank 2002b)

Labour force: 10 million persons according to 1999 estimates (World Bank 2001)

Fishery data and estimates


Number of fishers: 91 402 in 2000, of which 11 850 (est.) aquaculture farmers (data repeated from 1998), 11 299 inland fishers (data repeated from 1986), 68 253 marine fishers (FAO FIDI data).

Full-time: 79 552 in 2000 (FAO FIDI data)

Unspecified: an estimated 11 850 in 2000 (FAO FIDI data)

Number of marine fishers: 68 253, of which 50 873 marine coastal fishers and 17 380 (est.) deep-sea fishers, the latter data being repeated from 1998 (FAO FIDI data)

Full time: 68 253 in 2000 (FAO FIDI data)

Estimated employment in the secondary sector: 27 000 persons in 1998 (FAO 2000)

Note: gender breakdown not provided by references


Fisheries GDP: US$1 104 million in 2000 (FAO 2000)

Total and marine landings: 4 547 536 MT in 2000 (Fishstat + data)

Aquaculture production and value: 425 058 MT in 2000, corresponding to US$1 266 241 200 (Fishstat + data)

Export quantity: 1 069 696 MT in 2000 (Fishstat + data)

Export value: US$1 784 560 000 in 2000 (Fishstat + data)

Chile is the world’s largest producer of Patagonian toothfish (Figure 3). The principal landings come from the Pacific Southeast (Figure 11). It is a highly commercial resource mostly exploited by industrial fishing companies such as Pesca Chile. Based on Fishstat + data on landings for 2000 and FAO FIDI data on employment in marine fisheries, it is estimated that 200 fishers depend on this fishery.

Landings of toothfish from the Pacific Southeast increased steadily from 37 MT in 1978 to 26 918 in 1992. The catch then started to decline, reaching 6 993 MT in 1996. Eventually it recovered, reaching 10 676 MT in 2000. Landings from the Atlantic Antarctic averaged some 1 800 MT per year over the 1992 to 2000 period (Figures 3 and 11). Total landings of toothfish rose to a high of 29 838 MT in 1992, then declined to 9 334 MT in 1997. They recovered to 12 285 MT in 2000 (Figures 3 and 11).

Figure 11: Landings of Patagonian toothfish in Chile by production area, 1978-2000.

Chilean exports accounted for an average of 95.4 percent of world exports of toothfish over the period 1985-2000 in terms of quantity and 97.3 percent in value (Figure 5 [a] and [b]) increasing steadily from US$4 million in 1985 to some US$87.2 million in 1995, declining to US$49 million in 1998, before recovering to US$84.2 million in 1999. In 2000 however they dropped to US$52.7 million (Figure 5 [b]). In terms of quantity, during the period 1994 - 2000, exports declined steadily, from 13 196 MT to 6 302 MT (Figure 5 [a]).


The international regime for Patagonian toothfish is a politically sensitive issue, with several controversial matters associated with it, including:

- longline fishing and bycatch;
- the relation between fishing corporations and emerging economies; and
- the sovereignty over Antarctic resources.

In 2000, Argentine exports of toothfish to Japan alone totalled more than US$11.5 million. Assuming similar unit prices, imports to the United States would be approaching a value of US$10.0 million. Landings of Patagonian toothfish are concentrated in the Patagonia area, where 110 fishers are estimated to be dependant on the fishery.

The Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas, toothfish fishery employs 100 fishers and office workers and exports its total production. These exports account for around 1 percent of the Islands’ GDP.

Chile exported 63 percent of its toothfish landings during the period 1990-2000. These exports represent an important source of foreign exchange averaging more than US$54 million per year during that period. It is estimated that 200 fishers depend on the toothfish fishery in Chile.

Other countries which benefit from Dissostichus fisheries in terms of income and employment opportunities are Uruguay and the Republic of Korea. Uruguay landed 3 273 MT and the Republic of Korea 2 579 MT in 2000 (Fishstat + data). However, neither country provided Fishstat + with trade data on toothfish.


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(also available at

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[47] In June 2002 (CITES 2002), Australia proposed the inclusion of both the Patagonian toothfish and the Antarctic toothfish Dissostichus mawsonii in Appendix II to CITES. The proposal was, however, withdrawn by the proponent country during CoP 12.
[48] ISOFISH is a non-governmental joint venture between conservation organizations and licensed fishing companies. It became operational at the beginning of January 1998. The organization focuses on collecting, collating, analysing, verifying and disseminating data, information and reports on longline fishing in the southern oceans. Through this work, ISOFISH assists governments in preventing IUU fishing and the incidental mortality of albatrosses and other seabirds in these fisheries. Its web page is
[49] In order to facilitate the reading of the study, the term “export” has been intended to include “re-export” as well.
[50] This is mainly due, however, to the lack of data provided to Fishstat + by other main Dissostichus exporting nations, such as Argentina.
[51] A dispute exists between the Governments of Argentina and of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas.

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